Nature's Fallacy

Beneath our modern environmentalism lurks a fundamental ontological error that destines even the greenest of intentions to grey.

Nature's Fallacy
A lone pine divides the forest light. Tolfino, B.C., photo by R. Maier

IN SHARP CONTRAST TO KINCENTRIC NATIONS ANCIENT AND ONGOING, our modern view of the world has come to be based solely on the teachings of our fellow humans. From philosophers to prophets, priests to kings, scientists to seers, human teachers have shaped our modern understanding and relationship to "the natural world". Upon this way of knowing, we have established the means by which we discern good from bad, true from false, right from wrong— and, incidentally, centered our modern ideologies upon fulfilling human needs over those of all Earth's other inhabitants. However practical and successful this paradigm has been for the prosperity of humanity, it has wholly failed to achieve the ecological integration we so long for today.

As we saw in our last chapter, kincentric nations were founded on an altogether different way of knowing.  Rather than learning solely from human teachers, these societies recognized the plants and animals around them as kin, elders, and teachers.  Today, as we come to recognize the steady pattern of ecological enrichment inherent to their cultures, we can glimpse the pattern of depletion within our own— and the ontological flaw at the root of our modern view of the world.

From Greek stories of human-gods ruling the world, to Roman legends of humans dominating it, western society has put humans upon a pedestal. From early astronomers declaring  that the sun spun around the earth, to biblical interpretations declaring man’s dominion over all other creatures1, the concept of human exceptionalism has long been lodged in the depths of western collective consciousness.  Over the centuries, as modern philosophy, religion, ethics and science have evolved they have built layer upon layer on top of this ancient foundation.

Today, we know better.

After centuries of science, biologist have long dismissed that humans are at the top of life’s tree and astronomers have long disproved that the Earth is the center of the cosmos.  In this, modern science and ancient kincentricism now align.  Both concur that humans, plants and animals all share ancestry and origins, connection and dependence, action and consequence.

However, in much the same way that modern cities are built upon the forgotten foundations of buildings that came long before, the axiom of man’s centrality and separateness has remained and persisted, buried in the depths of our modern ideologies.

From capitalism to communism, fascism to feminism, neoliberalism to socialism, our modern views of the world thus remains rooted inhuman exceptionalism. Even though our modern ideologies may proclaim vast differences, their underlying cosmological foundations remain all but the same.

No matter the the politics or the ideology, this underlying human-centrism is most clear in the very language that we use to talk about the ‘natural world’ that we so long to love, protect and preserve.

In modern language, there is no word more imbued with the cumbersome weight of ancient metaphysical misconception than that of ‘nature’.    This term, used so poetically by environmentalist to compel conservation and protection of ‘the natural’ world, is alas seeped in the irredeemable dualistic fallacy of man and of nature, culture and of ecology, the natural and the human.

Upon this stark division modern environmentalism is built.  Derived from the Middle-English term environ, meaning to circle or surround, “the environment’ has come to mean, that which around us humans, but not that which is us.2

Over the last decades, feminists,3 theologians and philosophers4have all observed that the modern environmental ethics that results from this foundation (laws, sustainability guidelines, UN goals, etc.) are thus locked into a view from a perspective human-time scale and human space, of human-rights, needs, interests and economy. From this view, ‘nature’ is inevitably objectified as something with which humanity is ever interacting with: managing, dominating, stewarding. The ‘green’ enterprises that follow, thus strive to reduce harm, to protect and to conserve that ‘natural’ world that remains from human touch and contamination.  From this reasoning, the notion of human ecological contribution is all but impossible.

Banayan and I observe that this logic is contrary to our own cultural and ecological experience—and that of countless kincentric nations ancient and ongoing in which the concept and the word ‘nature’ is entirely lacking .5

We observe that the effort of preserving and protecting ‘nature’ is likewise doomed to the very fate it aims to avoid.  Conserving and protecting a particular organism, ecosystem or biome at the exclusion of others, in the end, always fails.  As the surrounding whole of which the conserved part is dependent degrades, eventually so too will the part.

To move forward towards authentic green contributions, we must thus first thoroughly excise this metaphysical error from our view of the world.

To do so, the concept of ‘nature’ must crumble like the ancient rusted chain that it is.

Only then, can we shatter the mind forged manacles of antiquated, anthropocentric cosmology and open the door to the ecological regeneration to which our moment calls.

Only then can we too see the plants and animals around us as kin, elders and masters of ecological integration– teachers that we can learn from to fast forward our own regenerative potential.

Only then can we see the greatest teacher of all has been awaiting us all along.

NEXT: Chapter 7 | The Ways of the Earth

PREVIOUS: Chapter 5 | Another Knowing


A decade ago, Banayan Angway and Russell Maier; an Igorot wisdom keeper and a western philosopher, joined forces to protect the Chico River in the remote Northern Philippines from an inundation of plastic pollution. Ever since, they have continued to explore the pressing modern relevance of indigenous ecological wisdom. Guided by the Igorot Ayyew eco-ethos, they are publishing a systematic theory of green and grey in the form of a philosophical treatise. The Full Story of the Tractatus Ayyew


1“A tradition of translation [of the word ‘dominion’ in Genesis] has inscribed the dualistic, anthropocentric, and hierarchical cast of Western philosophy and theology into the biblical text. Careful attention to the world of the text, and translations that reflect that world authentically, can open up new (“old”) readings that are more ecologically sound and sensitive.”  Theodore Hieber, (2019) Re-translating Genesis 1–2: Reconnecting Biblical Thought and Contemporary Experience, Sage Journals, Vol 70, Issue 3, 2019

2Russell heard a first-hand the account from the former under-secretary of general of the UN, Dr. Robert Muller, who in discussions with UN Secretary General U. Thant during the 1960’s, after debating various words, settled on the term the ‘environment’ (which like the French word environnement had yet to acrue political meaning at the time) as a short-hand for ecological concerns at the time. The term was later used for the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, in Stockholm in 1972 and ‘environmentalism’ gained political meaning.

3Carolyn Merchant provided a compelling feminist critique of the connection between ‘nature’ and the feminine, however, failed to arrive at an anthropocentric critique of the concept. (1980), The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution, Harper & Row

4Timothy Morton, (2007) Ecology without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics, Harvard University Press.

5In Banayan's Kan'kan'ue language there is no word for 'nature'.  The closest term is 'batawa' which denotes the world around without separating people from other beings.  This is observation is shared by speakers of other indigenous languages:  Seline Meijer,  (2017) People and nature blur in the world's indigenous languages, IUCN - Planet at the Crossroads

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